The Beginners Guide To Designing A Survey

Philip Cleave
September 13, 2017

Surveys have become a staple tool for obtaining data from a variety of audiences. To obtain actionable data and achieve your stated objectives, it is essential to design a good questionnaire. Designing a survey is an art and requires practice, but by following some simple rules you can collect useful data without encountering some of the common pitfalls of survey design.

When designing online surveys remember to keep in mind the objectives and who the target audience is. It is good practice to put the questions in a meaningful order and keep the survey to a reasonable length, don’t ask questions unless the data will be directly used to implement changes.

5 tips for designing a survey

  1. Have a clear objective of what you want to achieve and the data you need to collect.
  2. Do not ask questions about non-essential information, make all your questions count.
  3. Focus on two or three topics that will have the greatest impact on business goals.
  4. Identify areas that require richer feedback and ask more detailed questions.
  5. Critically review your questionnaire to make sure you receive actionable results.

When designing a survey, it’s important to remember that the data collected through market research should aid decisions that need to be made, so make sure you remain focused on specific objectives.

Although questionnaire design seems on the face of it an easy task, in fact, there are a number of things to be aware of that can hinder a survey rather than make it successful. Beginners setting out to create a survey should start by identifying the objectives. This is important in order to keep the survey short enough to keep peoples’ attention but at the same time manage to capture all the information needed. Simple as it sounds, the task should be taken seriously, so here are some easy to follow steps that will guide you through the survey process from start to finish:

6 steps for carrying out successful market research

  1. Identify the objectives and target audience: Pinpoint what you want to find out. The more focused the research is on finding out what you want to know, the more useful it will be.
  2. Create the survey: Select the questions you want to ask and build the survey. Customizing and editing your survey is easy and don’t forget to test it on a sample group before sending.
  3. Collect the data: You can send survey invitations via email and SMS, share via social media and embed directly into your website. Keep a track of open rates, views, failures, and opt-outs.
  4. Analyze the results: Turn results into custom graphs and charts. Also, easily export the exact survey data you need to CSV (Excel) for further analysis.
  5. Report your findings: Download reports or give others access by sending them a password-protected link so that they can view the results for themselves.
  6. Take action: Act on the results – the true value of the survey will be when you implement changes that drive your business forward.

It sounds straight forward, doesn’t it? And it is, now that you have the overall view on how to get the most out of your surveys, you need to focus on the detail.

What type of questions should I use in a survey?

There are two main types of questions used in surveys to collect information. One is the structured or fixed response type, and the other is the non-structured or open response type.

Structured questions offer respondents a closed set of responses to choose from which are quick and easy to answer. With this type of question, the collection and analysis of the data is much simpler. Structured questions are suitable to use when the survey designer thoroughly understands the subject and is not looking to capture new ideas. Just remember to make sure that all the answers offered in a structured question are relevant to that question.

Non-structured or open-ended questions do not have a list of answer choices following them. Instead, respondents are asked to write their responses in open text boxes. Such questions are appropriate when the authors wish to explore new ideas. There can also be partially structured questions, with a list of answer choices, but also with the answer option “Other (please specify)”.

Designing an online survey which meets the goals set by the administrators should start with a clear statement of the intentions of the research. Decide at the start of the design process whether or not you need to collect any personally identifiable information. Consumers can be reluctant to hand over personal detail so it is good practice to limit what you ask for and to make it clear to people what you intend to do with the data.

How long should my survey be?

Less is usually more as time is a precious commodity. Survey fatigue, caused by surveying people too often or making the surveys too long, is a hindrance to collecting quality results. A well designed online survey will go a long way to avoiding this problem. Typically, surveys with between 10 to 15 questions receive a good completion rate.

So, keep it short if you can. You can use tools such as skip logic to trigger related questions and make the survey relevant to the person answering it, you can even ensure they jump past entire sections. By using piping you can use answers from previous questions and insert them automatically to save time.

Using a progress bar will keep your respondents informed on how far along the survey they are and can act as an incentive to complete the survey. However, research has shown that there is no discernible difference in completion rates when using a progress bar, so it might be something you want to A/B test?

This is just a basic beginners’ guide to getting started with designing a survey. Leave us your comments on what you would like to know more about.


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